Short story: Halloween special

They ventured into the crypt: five militias, two knights, two priests, and one dog; torches in hands, provisions on backs, and a primal fright at heart. Leading the pack, the younger of the knights, Sir Rathamul brandished a sword and a spiked lantern shield. The oil lantern, a part of his shield’s gauntlet, emanated a dim orange light the radius of two meter–about two third the reach of his sword–accompanied by a sweet incense whose cost per pouch far surpassed the blue fur cap on his shoulders, and whose sole purpose was to veer away the stench of bat droppings.

Father Germini claimed the incense warded evil spirits and kept one sane by the grace of God; how much of this was a priest’s belief and how much was an apothecary’s consideration for the laymen, Sir Rathamul knew not. The priest knew his craft; that was certain. In this party, he was the only person who could speak Gondrash—the language of the dragons—and his healing arts could bring a man back from the brink of death. His young age was of no relevance to his wisdom, or so Sister Forse, who on the same day resorted to young age as an excuse for her inability to read, spoke about the man in white cassock, clutching a golden pectoral cross in his hands.

When it came to wisdom and age, however, no one in his homeland or that marble city of Azeth to the west could match Sir Winfried of Ursland in the south. The city of Ironheart had always produced the finest knights in the kingdom and Winfried was this generation’s most skilled red-helm guard. With his blessed tower shield, which was being strapped to his back for ease of travel, he could deflect arrows back to their shooters from fifty meter away.

In the end, only Sister Forse and three fifteen-year-old and two sixteen-year-old militias were childish enough to argue who, Germini or Winfried, was the wisest of them all. The children had grown attached to her since the day the chieftain commanded them to assist Sir Rathamul on his first quest as a blue-shield crusader. That was a mere fortnight ago, and yet their homeland—his homeland—the fishing village of Merlock, already seemed a distant memory.

Sister Forse, in a standard Azethan church’s black habit, would turn twelve this year. She was at the age where she could be courted by and married to nobles if not for her clergy duties. Sir Winfried opposed her coming with them; he saw her as a dead weight, a fine companion at the dining table but a dead weight in battle nevertheless. The one-meter-and-eight giant watched her slender back from the end of their human column, keeping a short half meter distance from the militia before him so that his torch would not drip oil on the boy’s leather helm. At times, he would nag her and her boys to keep quiet else they would wake the dead.

One last member of the party was Sister Forse’s dog: Dust. It was a large brown dog; large enough to carry Sister Forse on its back when she was younger, Father Germini said, but he could no longer. His mistress had outgrown him to the point he could be picked up in her arms and cuddled. This, Sir Rathamul later learned, was no exaggeration. Her work in Azethan church’s eatery apparently gave her the strength to pick up sacks of potatoes with one hand and the dexterity to outrun a chicken.

Inscribed along the crypt’s walls were oval glyphs indecipherable by either Father Germini or Sir Winfried. These black, obsidian glyphs gave off an apprehensive sensation when gazed upon and strange warmth when touched—in contrast to the cold haze permeating from the blizzard outside through the rocks and into this ancient sanctuary. Everyone was as tense as a harp’s string when Sir Winfried ordered one of the boys to inspect the glyphs. Reluctantly, the militia obliged and poked his spear at the wall, breathing a sigh of relief when nothing happened.

They split up into two groups. The first group consisted of Father Germini, Sir Rathamul and three militias traveled eastward along the wall. The second group; Sister Forse, Sir Winfried, two militias and the dog; went in the opposite direction, following the western wall. The knights with their shields and swords guarded their own respective group from frontal attacks, the militias with bronze spears shortened for indoor fighting covered the flanks, and the priests with torches remained protected at the center of the formation. The goal was to circle the crypt, estimate its layout and gather fuel for a camp fire.

Every step he made, Sir Rathamul counted it in his mind. Every hundred steps he made, he counted it aloud for Father Germini and the boys. Meanwhile, the priests and the militias kept their eyes peeled for dry branches, hay, linen or anything of interest in the premise, or anything that lurked in the shadows. As the step count reached a staggering thousand, Father Germini grew anxious. Even the Common’s Hall—the parliament building in Azeth city—was not as vast as a thousand steps in diameter, he said, and something was out of the ordinary, he concluded.

Sir Rathamul had also noticed the peculiarity of their situation. His senses told him they had been walking downhill for a while; but he knew not how steep the slope had been without a natural reference such as the sky, whereby the hypnotic, swirly patterns on the ceiling did nothing to help as they induced the same apprehension as the glyphs on the walls, then seemed to be coiling like a giant, living, stone serpent in his eyes. His feet, however, told a different story. The unarmored priest and light armored militias might not have felt this, but Sir Rathamul, cladded in steel from head to toe, had an acute awareness of this so terrible a weariness for a leisure stride downhill.

This surreal discrepancy struck him as dreadful for they could have walked themselves to exhaustion and been swallowed up by the eternal darkness, had they taken the trustworthiness of their senses for granted. Having understood the situation—that the crypt might be so vast, they would not be able to circle it with their depleting oil reserve and waning stamina—Father Germini urged them to withdraw if they ever hoped to see the sun again. He commanded Sir Rathamul to burn a bit of the expensive incense they were saving for the whole party after they rendezvoused.

The way the priest gave the commands got on the young knight’s nerves and the knight became infuriated. Sir Winfried was the party’s leader and Sir Rathamul was the second in command, this made the knight the group’s bona fide leader when the party split. Young as he might be, Sir Rathamul was still four years older than the priest and in his village, age and wisdom came in hand.

The knight was being unreasonable; Father Germini contested. But surmised he had authority, what suppose his plan was? Was it not the same? The priest challenged. To this point, Sir Rathamul had no retort and as soon as the incense was lit and they began marching to the crypt’s entrance, he felt petty and angry at himself for crying attention to someone younger than he was. Perhaps having seen through the knight’s frustration, Father Germini offered the first apology, saying, he had been a big brother to Sister Forse for so long that he had forgotten his place in the larger group. Afterward, words of confession poured out of his mouth so easily that Sir Rathamul had a vision: that this priest had brought out a church from the cross on his chest and placed them all within its sanctuary.

When they backtracked to the entrance, it took them only eight hundred steps and the uphill climb felt much worse than the other way—and yet his mind was exhilarated, thrilled by the normalcy, so filled with euphoria that the toll on his body eluded him until they reached the exit and finally got to settle down on the dusty floor. They welcomed the sound, the sensation, and the vision of a sensible and cruel world like an old friend they had not seen for many years. The roar of winds, the chill of snows, and the orange glow of lantern reflected off the dull rock face beyond the crypt’s entrance had become so beloved in their eyes. They had no sense of time in that strange place, but given the blizzard had yet to subside, it could not have been more than a few hours.

They sensed an imposing desire to flee the shelter and run into the raging storm. Indeed had they not been so weary to the point of collapse, the militias would have done so, and there would have been nothing Sir Rathamul or Father Germini could do to stop them. At the border of the blizzard and the crypt, they were assaulted by both the cold and the darkness. While the blizzard soon subsided, the chill lingered and the snow kept pelting down till dawn of the next day. But, dawn was seen by none of them for at midnight they heard a series of loud barks in the crypt.

Father Germini was the first to notice and he cried the dog’s name and brought a torch to the dark entrance. The soft galloping of a dog answered, drawing closer to their camp until the dog jumped out from the void like a javelin. All of them froze at the terrible sight in front of them: the dog with blank white eyes growled and bared his canine teeth at them, his mouth foaming crimson saliva, dark stains splattered his brown fur, and a nauseating stench distinctive of blood radiated from the creature. Sir Rathamul drew his weapons and the militias followed suit. Hearing the sound of sheathing metal, the dog flinched and darted back into the crypt. Father Germini, with only a torch in hand chased after the dog; all shouting from the knights and the militias went into deaf ear.

Sir Rathamul and his fellow warriors, who could not bear the guilt of abandoning their comrades, held their breaths, gathered their courage and once again plunged into the crypt. This time, they were much less prepared than before; much of their provisions were left by the camp fire and they only had on them the bare minimum oilskin for half an hour of fire. As they ran, the knight shed his plate armor pieces by pieces, with each piece making a resounding clang when it hit the stone floor, until there were only greaves and gauntlets on him. When he did so, he felt his body wrapped in both a physical and mental chill. Without the iron clad he would have nothing but the lantern shield and the short sword to fend off the mortal dangers implied by the sorry state of the dog. However, his mind rejoiced as his legs became nimbler and he could sprint faster than ever.

They covered a great distance before they caught up with Father Germini. The priest lost sight of the dog and was desperately shouting its name. They were at the center of the vast chamber, darkness stretching in all directions for as far as the eyes could see and the torchlight could reach. Sir Rathamul feared the worst had come to pass to Sir Winfried’s party, and should it have been the case, he feared there would be no going back from this adventure for he was nothing but a mere shadow of the great red-helm knight. He would rather fight bandits and wolves than fumbling in the dark, looking for a danger he could not perceive. Even swamp giants stank less than this crypt, said one of the militias, they would be better off in the blizzard than here, the other two militias added in unison.

This was the foolish priest’s fault, Sir Rathamul accused, he just had to run after the dog and drag them all into this situation; now without food and water, they would starve faster, if whatever was lurking in the shadow did not get them first. Father Germini said nothing. He let them vent their frustrations on him until they exhausted, then sighed and knelt down on the floor. Holding the golden cross in his hand, he prayed God for their deliverance and requested them to join him in prayer, which they eventually did. They all closed their eyes and chanted prayers after Father Germini. After a while, they could recite different prayers from memory and this, for a time, brought their souls closer to God, closer to salvation.

As it came to pass, he told them the method to find the exit. They would travel in zigzag pattern until they caught a breeze, which could only come from the outside world, and following the wind would lead them to safety. Sir Rathamul found the knowledge assuring, he removed the gauntlet of his sword hand—then felt like a shackle—and licked one side of his index finger, raising it up high to sense the cold embrace of the mountain wind and began to lead the party to and fro. It took no time for them to encounter a welcoming headwind, which they followed in the previous formation, having regained a sense of unity, and all the while reciting biblical passages after Father Germini. The sweet incense, the priest explained, was often used in cleansing rituals at the church and when combined with prayers from three clergymen formed the essences of God and called upon his divine power to vanquish the evil one. They did not have much of the incense left in reserve but he surmised it should last long enough till the exit.

At length, Sir Rathamul noticed the fragrant smoke from the incense was flowing against the wind, toward the direction they were traveling instead of trailing behind them. When he spoke his discovery to Father Germini, the priest dismissed it with a hint of ire in his tone, saying this was a miracle, proof that God was leading them to deliverance, and that they must be as silent as a lamb and have faith in the Lord’s guidance. Thus, Sir Rathamul, having been proven to be the foolish one for the second time, kept his doubts to himself and spoke his own foolishness no more. But the fragrant led them not unto their deliverance but into temptation, and into the hand of the evil one, as creeping into the foremost corner of their vision at this very moment was the remnant of Sir Winfried’s party, which they thought to have left behind in the void and ought to remain there for eternity.

There laid the corpses of two boys on the floor: one headless and the other had one arm impaled by a bronze spear, and a fatal stabbing wound at his side. The blood of their bodies had ceased to flow, the limbs were stiff, cold and blue, and when the party approached, the men caught glimpse of a few rats feasting on the boys’ flesh. A distance away, they found Sir Winfried in a frightening state; the man was groveling, hands holding his bleeding eyes, his scarlet helm thrown away, his large rectangular tower shield and his sword, covered in blood, laid flat on the ground nearby. Upon hearing Sir Rathamul and his aides coming, Sir Winfried picked up his weapons and charged at them, cursing witches and shouting repentance.

Father Germini, who had been squeamish and shaking, and the militias, who had cried their hearts out to the loss of their spear brothers, shouted at Sir Winfried to stop but it was in vain. Their leader saw them as witches, as heretics to be vanquished and his ears were shut as his mind was clouded. Get up and run! Screamed Sir Rathamul as he picked up a spear on the ground and flung it at the red-helm knight’s exposed head. This halted Sir Winfried for a moment, he was forced to bring up his tower shield to defend, angling the shield at an angle to deflect the projectile upward and bashing the spear back at Sir Rathamul when it fell back down. This was Sir Winfried of Ursland’s famous counter skill and it was only because Sir Rathamul had anticipated this coming that he was able to parry it.

Sir Rathamul knew he would not last against such a mighty foe on equal footings, let alone at a disadvantage; he had no armor on him while Sir Winfried was almost in full iron clad. But he had to buy time for the others to get away. He lunged his sword to intercept Sir Winfried’s charge and raised his shield to protect his chest. His strike landed squarely on the steel cuirass and did nothing to Sir Winfried, who knew his advantage so well that he did not bother dodging or deflecting the attack, while his arm received a blow from the tower shield so tremendous that his joints crackled and his forearm twisted as though dislocated. Sir Rathamul staggered and fell on his back to dodge the horizontal slash at his abdomen, shoving a circular opening on his shield, from which the lantern light shone through and with which he could blind his opponent, into Sir Winfried’s face. In light and the intense fragrant took Sir Winfried’s off guard long enough for Sir Rathamul to escape. As he was without armor, he was nimbler than Sir Winfried and was able to put some distance between them with ease, eventually catching up with the priest’s group before the oil in his lantern ran out.

They found an extra hour of oil from the corpses of the militias and a torch on the ground; the torch that was supposed to be in the hand of Sister Forse. She was nowhere to be seen but given the torch, the militias, the dog and Sir Winfried, they came to a hard conclusion that she must have been killed and eaten by creatures of the dark. Father Germini did not take the news well, he was quiet and falling behind, at times, stopping and staring into the darkness as though hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse of the twelve-year-old nun. Perhaps, it had been for the best that they did not find her half-eaten body else the man might have lost the will to live.

Sir Rathamul asked the militias if they were okay, one of them had been sniffling for a while and the other two dragged their feet in silence, grim looks on their faces. They were okay, they said, as men at arms, they knew what they had signed up for and they were thankful they were still alive. But Sister Forse, she did not deserve this, the sobbing boy uttered, Sir Winfried was right: they should have left her in Azeth. At his words, the other two started weeping as well, swearing to get stronger, stronger than Sir Winfried, stronger than the darkness that begat this tragedy and swearing to avenge their losses this day.

These too were what Sir Rathamul would have wished for, had he not faced the wild blank eyes of Sister Forse’s dog, rummaged the pale and rotten corpses of young boys for provisions, and then stared down the killer end of Sir Winfried’s bloody sword, but he had and the young knight could not imagine escaping from the shadow of such primal, paralyzing and overwhelming fear for the rest of his mortal days. Thus, he wished for a life less strange, less otherworldly than this one; perhaps he should quit his adventuring ambition and settle down as a city guard in Azeth.

At last, the little incense they had ran dry and the smell of sweats mixed in the smog of burning oil were all that left for them. Up on the ceiling, the faint purple patterns continued swirling about; it was strange, when he thought about how they could see these phantasms when it was so dark, they could not see their own hands without a lantern; and then there was the wind, and the glyphs, and the witches. He realized his consciousness was fading and salvation drifting away. It felt almost as if…

God had forsaken them, Sir Rathamul spoke aloud.

This was God’s trial, Father Germini said—his voice seemed hollow and devoid of emotions—and only the most devoted of souls shall receive his divine guidance. He asked them to pause, get on their knees, put down their weapons, and pray the most sincere prayers to God, may his almighty show their sinful hearts mercy. That, they did. However, unlike before, when Sir Rathamul closed his eyes this time, he could not see the sanctuary of a church, nor could he feel his soul overflowed with hopes. He felt powerless, wretched and hopeless. He said he would fight and prevail against any enemy he could perceive and there he was, running away from Sir Winfried like a coward he was. He said he would lead them to safety as the rightful leader and there they were, fumbling in the dark, praying to a heavenly power for deliverance. His face grimaced, twisted in agony, as he struggled to cite the Lord’s prayers amid a torrent of self-pity and regrets.

Then, abruptly, a spear punched through Sir Rathamul’s chest, his eyes flung wide open and, behold, Father Germini’s bloodshot eyes were staring down at him from the other end of the bronze spear. It was so sudden that the knight could not utter a word as blood gushed forth from his chest like a fountain, and he slumped to the ground, making a dull thud. All three militias heard the sound and opened their eyes. It took them precious seconds to realize what was happening and when they did, the priest had already knocked their weapons into the darkness. Without their weapons, the militias were helpless children before this spear-wielding man, who then also armed himself with the fallen knight’s lantern shield.

God wills!

Father Germini cried and slew two of them: his spear skewed one boy’s throat and bashed the other’s head, splitting it in two. The two boys who moved their fingers toward their weapons were mercilessly put down on the spot, in manners so brutal that the last boy who was too stunned to react had no choice but to grovel on the ground, his face so low he could taste the blood of his brothers on his lips, and pledged allegiance to the priest in the name of his ancestors to save his own skin. This, in Merlock’s tradition, was the highest oath he could make.

At the boy’s pleading, Father Germini halted, lowered his weapon and slowly looked at the scene he had caused. His breaths were heavy, his movements rigid and his limbs were drained of strength. As his eyes drifted from the groveling boy, still too horrified to face reality, he saw it: the bloody spear in his hand, red droplets splattered on his white cassock and ponds of viscos liquid crept toward him, converging into a single mass centered at his feet, formed by the blood of three humans, the boy’s tears and his dreadful sin. The bloody spear hit the ground with a cold, metallic clang, which made the boy shriveled and started begging the priest not to kill him again.

But, Father Germini had stumbled backward, barely remained on his feet, both hands grabbed hold of his own head. Forgive me, Lord! Forgive me, Lord! Forgive me, Lord! So the priest moaned as the boy continued begging for his life. The lantern shield flickered, became dimmer and dimmer until finally it went out, and darkness swallowed them both. Then, the boy felt something sharp, oozy and furry wrapped around his arm and something else sweaty, soft and powerful wrapped around the other arm. These invisible creatures tugged at him, pulling him away from the priest and his brothers. He let out a high-pitched shriek which was muffled almost instantaneously. Nothing else could be heard but the sound of the boy’s feet being dragged away.

Soon, the unseen forces of the void turned their vicious jaws at the priest. Father Germini picked up an eerie sensation of things shuffling around him. He swung his lantern shield in the dark, crouching down and using his sense of touch to search for Sir Rathamul’s corpse, in the process he stumbled upon an oozy, mushy substance on one of the boys’ heads. His hand jerked away from it, his imagination spun wild and he became panicked for he did not recognize what this unknown substance was. Gulping down his saliva, he pressed on and his hand came into contact with a human’s hand so warm that almost felt like it could still be moving. Each artifact he touched fueled his paranoia further; by the time he found the oilskin on the knight’s body and refueled the lantern shield, he was so paranoid that he was convinced Sir Rathamul and the militias were alive and stabbed their dead bodies repeatedly with the spike of the lantern shield.

The fifteen year-old boy, the last survivor of the spear brothers, stiffened in fear by his plight and found it hard to breath. These unknown things had dragged him so far away from the priest that when the lantern light was lit, it appeared to him as a tiny orange dot at the distance. He knew neither what these creatures wanted nor what fate awaited him in the void. He could not cry, he was scared, too scared, in fact, that he could not remember his own name when a familiar voice asked him. His mind blanked out and when he came to be once more, he was already at the crypt’s entrance, next to a smoldering camp fire, next to Sister Forse, who was pouring a waterskin on her dog and washing his fur clean of blood. When asked, she told him that the dog—Dust—could navigate in the dark with his keen noses and ears, and while he had become both blinded and deaf after receiving a shield bash from Sir Winfried, as long as she was there, she could be his eyes, ears and mind.

Her escape in itself was as absurd as the boy’s own. These two children and a dog knocked on the doors of every church, every garrison in the kingdom, hoping someone would believe their story and help them free Father Germini and Sir Winfried from the clutch of that accursed crypt, recover the remains of the fallen ones, and vanquish the evil forces that lurked within. When at long last, the queen of Ironheart agreed to spare them a band of elite knights, who had been close friends of Sir Winfried, and they traveled to the snowy mountain north east of Silver Gallop harbor in order to challenge the accursed crypt once more, the landscape had changed so much that they had to question if their memories were real or dream. After two weeks scouring every crook and cranny of the mountain in search of the crypt without any luck, the party went back to Ironheart, disappointed and doubtful.

While years later the boy had given up the spear and became an apprentice of a blacksmith in Ironheart, he heard Sister Forse had never given up her quest. Last they spoke in Ironheart, she was chasing after the legend of the witches Sir Winfried mentioned in his fit of rage to the forest west of the city, and later her name, too, vanished into obscurity…

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Saturday Night Out #1

About this writing prompt

See: Character-Driven Fiction Writing Prompts

Saturday Night Out is a character development prompt for White Destiny. The prompt will feature characters from the novel in casual daily conversations that explore the personalities and world views of these characters. The prompt’s name is inspired by the following cheer between the Baron and the red helm knights from revision 2, chapter 4:

“…Ha’lly willy boos! Tonight is Saturday night. Who stays home on Saturday night?”

“Dead people!” the knights answered in unison and threw their fists in the air.

“What was that again? I can’t hear you”

“Only dead people stay home on Saturday night!” they shouted again.

These short prompts will consist of only dialogues.

~ ~ * ~ ~

The lazy master and a good friend

“Sir Richard is going to revoke my funding next week. That is, if I were to remain a lazy master.”

“A lazy master?”

“One that fails to meet his daily quota.”

“Which daily quota? Oh, you mean that daily quota. Isn’t it really simple though? It only took me two moons to finish mine.”

“I envy you.”

“Yup, I know I’m the best.”

“Clevandi finished his before getting the quarter though.”

“…”

“I have no idea he had a quarter…or that he had a daily quota.”

“He has neither.”

“That doesn’t count. I’m still the best.”

“Growing arrogant aren’t you?”

“Heck yes, I am a master now. I earned the right to brag…Don’t tell anyone I said that okay?”

“What is in it for me?”

“I’ll buy you ale.”

“These lips are sealed. So, what will you buy for my hands?”

“Your hands?”

“I can still write about this, you know?”

“…”

“Go work on your daily quota.”

“Touché.”

“Wait, I’ve just realized something. If Clevandi doesn’t have a quarter, he technically cannot finish his quota before getting his quarter.”

“Don’t sweat the details. It is the point that counts.”

“Sure, Leo. Don’t sweat the details. Remind me of the time you told me “chicks love Silverflow masters”. The only “chick” I have seen so far is an old rooster named Annabel and she is…I don’t know where to start….”

“Apologize to the whole rooster-kind now.”

“I kneel.”

“I kneel as well.”

“The worst part of this is…I think she actually fancies me…”

“You two will make a great pair, Sleeping Beauty.”

“You’re giving me goose bumps…”

“Weren’t you really popular before, though? I sometimes see you with that daughter of…eh, the butcher, I think?”

“Her father is a potter. A cutie except she thinks I’m one of her girlfriends crossed a mule. Unless…you were talking about the butcher’s wife, then it’s not me she wanted, it’s Alex.”

“Alex…”

“Yep. I’m just a “good friend” to them.”

“That’s luxury. I’m not even a friend with one.”

“What about Katherine? Weren’t you guys like…really chummy back then?”

“Is this jealousy am I sensing?”

“…”

“No.”

“Rest assured. She’s not my type. I like someone smart; preferably a master of Silverflow but not necessarily, a candidate or apprentice will do just fine. Being able to hold a logical argument is the prerequisite and, she must not be an old rooster named Annabel.”

“Apologize to all roosters now!”

“I kneel.”

“You’d better be. Although…isn’t that Princess Lilia you’re describing?”

“Too young. I’m turning forty next year and she’s turning twenty next week. Frankly, I feel old looking at her. Just imagine what she can achieve in twenty-year time. What right to I have to be a part of her destiny?”

“Ah…yeah…I can see your point.”

“Sometimes, it does feel like I’m holding her back more than anything. But, what can I do? I cannot quit. What price does Leonardo di Price have without his influences?”

“Is influence why you pushed for the secession?”

“…”

“No, I want that from the start. All else are means and justifications.”

 

News from Ashlora – July/2017

Chapter 3 is out last week and oh boy the pacing sure picked up a lot. The release schedule, though, slowed down significantly. I took last month off weekly releases. It’s just me being lazy, no excuse here, and I apologize for my procrastination.

BLOGGING SCHEDULE CHANGES

Starting from next chapter, White Destiny will be released on Saturday instead Thursday. The time will be around 6 PM (UTC+0). That is…if I could fight the urge to get the story out as soon as it is done. I added a handy countdown to the sidebar that tells the time and content of upcoming releases. This way, when I cannot publish the weekly update in time or when there is no upcoming update scheduled, the timer will be updated to reflect the changes in real time.

In addition to the usual seasonal anime review, monthly novel commentary and weekly scene releases, I’ll be doing some writing prompts now and then. In these writing prompts, I’ll pick three random items and write a short story around these three items (props to Bungaku Shoujo novel for the idea). The writing prompts are intended to replace some of the weekly scene releases whenever I feel stuck on the novel.

There are already to short stories in this format, please check them out here

https://fujihita.wordpress.com/tag/writing-prompt/

DEATH BY RANDOMIZATION

I have a confession to make on the events unfolded in chapter 3. I had no plan whatsoever. Past Leo’s conversation with Thomas, I flipped a coin to see if anyone else would interrupt the conversation and rolled a dice to see who would it be. I only knew that I needed to get the dragon to Ironheart and pitch the witch against the dragon at some points.

It just so happened that when the world’s mechanics have been sufficiently fleshed out, the story will begin writing itself, sometimes against the will of  the author. I deeply wanted Steve the Ironsmith to survive the ordeal, I really did. But, he was the kind of person to jump into the way of an attack, knowing that he would come out unscathed, confident of his fortitude and of the strength of his steel.

Unfortunately for him, the lightning pipe (formally notated in writing notes as “McGuffin”) is just that much stronger. It is the equivalence of nuclear weapon in Ashlora and whichever nation possessing the weapon will be condemned and purged by the ruling Archbishop and his crusaders.

And so, he died, along with captain Joshua who was destined to be killed anyways, and half of Rosenberg district, and Brown’s Boulder tavern. I rolled a dice for the inventor to successfully intervene but he failed.

In hindsight, using randomization is not exactly the brightest idea ever. The entire Steve x Katherine ship just sank to the bottom of the ocean, the royal selection plot line is going down with it as well and the geopolitical changes after this “terrorist attack” will spell disaster for the secession plot line.

GOING FORWARD

One good thing came out of all this turmoil is the inventor. He now has a solid agenda moving forward. Alexander D’Amore is his new enemy, Sir Richard is no longer his ally, and for a short time Lilia Silverflow will be his new best friend. His goal will be the remainder of the baron’s lightning pipe stockpile Alex has stolen and he plans to use them to gain leverage on Azeth during the secession.

So far in the story, the inventor has taken the role of a passive narrator. From the next chapter onward, he will play a more active role in the events. We’re now back to the original premise of the book, that is to gain political influence and start a war, and the core cast for this purpose: the inventor, the baron and the princess.

Other than that, I have to iron out some inconsistency I noticed. The knight captain’s unique marker is an arm guard, not a gauntlet as stated in scene #7. Also, I’ll need to reconsider the reactions of Silverflow Council in chapter 1 to the news of a dragon sighting now that it is revealed that the dragon can be tamed by the princess.

I didn’t plan for the dragon to be obedient but at some point in writing chapter 3, I came up with some hilarious and epic traits for the dragon and I decided to make it less of a plot device and more of an actual character.

White Destiny #12 (Rev 4)

Katherine did ponder in silence for a long time. She was given the captain’s arm guard and the reins of the princess’s horse and the instruction to retreat. The answer, “Yes, Your Highness”, could not have come any later.

The street of Ironheart was desolated. Not just in Rosenberg district but everywhere in the city. The moon had reached the end of its cycle and a new one had begun as the crackles of fire and the heavy footsteps of the dragon took the attention away from the flares of horn atop the Ruby Garden castle.

It was moon thirteen. There was no more whimpers in these parts of the town. There were only embers and burning corpses on the street.

“Tell me, Price. Who did this?” Lilia asked.

“Alexander D’Amore, Your Highness.”

“I see…so the witch did this too,” she concluded.

Father Felacia cringed but said nothing. He averted eyes when Leo tried to make eye contact.

“I can’t believe it! You are still going to cover Alex!? What must he do before you can start throwing up arms and say “I’m done with his crap, let him die now”?”

“Calm down, Leo. I’m sure she has an explanation–”

The inventor smacked the bishop’s hand away. His blood was boiling.

“Calm down? That bastard stole my sketches, beat me up, destroyed my favorite part of town and killed my best friend in an afternoon. How dare you tell me to calm down?”

“I have to agree with him. We have to draw a line somewhere. Alex’s behavior is inexcusable and he should face punishment for his deeds”, the deacon voiced his opinion.

“Thank you for having a shred of common sense, Father Graham.”

“Both of you, listen to me!” the princess clapped her hands to draw attention, “If words got out that Ironheart was in possession of lightning pipes, the problem would not end with just D’Amore. We all would be facing the wrath of His Excellency and I assure you, you do not want to go down the path Fa’el went.”

Her voice was solemn. This was no laughing matter.

“Pardon me, princess, did you just say lightning pipes!?” Father Graham gasped.

“This is insane!” Leo exclaimed.

“Is this for real? Father Felacia, do you know about this?”

Father Felacia hung his head, and then he began to speak:

“Sir Richard keeps a small arsenal of magical artifacts, including lightning pipes and some Fa’elin relics, for the day the witch attacks Ironheart. His Excellency would never agree to this but, the baron has his reasons.”

“Lord helps us all”, the deacon uttered.

“Lord helps us all indeed”, the princess nodded.

“I understand the reasons but I don’t agree with the approach. I believe it is better that we speak the truth and beg His Excellency–”

“If you are not going to trial Alex then get out of my way–”

“The dragon saw the pipe, how should we–”

“Quiet! Quiet! One person at a time!” Lilia smacked her hand across the inventor’s and the deacon’s chests.

“You hit me, you insolent woman!” the deacon reacted, grabbing her arm and throwing her off balance.

“Hand off the princess, Father Graham!” the bishop stepped in, trying to break them off.

Major repulsive.

Impervious. Major ponderous.

The situation escalated. The princess shoved her rosary in the deacon’s face and cast a spell. Father Graham’s body was catapulted into the air. But, he was quick to counter with a spell that made himself unbelievably heavy. His weight caused the pebble road under his feet to crack. Then, his pace hastened as he activated the third spell:

Nimble.

He dashed toward the princess for a flying kick, which failed spectacularly and he ended up in a sink hole caused by a wordless Crumble spell.

Obstreperous“, Lilia tossed a small stone into the sink hole and cast “Minor magnificent.

The stone quickly grew into a boulder.

Obstreperous“, Father Graham lifted the princess’s spell and the stone shrank to its original size. “Overflow“, the earth multiplied beneath him. The sink hole was filled to the brim and the deacon was on even ground again in seconds.

“You want me dead”, Father Graham remarked.

“Lese majesty is a crime punishable by death”, Lilia affirmed.

“Antique laws are not enforceable in a republic.”

“We shall see.”

“Both of you, cut it out!” Father Felacia cried.

“Uh…Felacia…”

“Not now, Leo!”

“The dragon is watching…”

The dragon was eyeing them from atop the obsidian obelisk. It was quietly spectating and letting out a few hisses when the bishop saw it.

The bad blood between the princess and the deacon had reached its peak. The two adversaries dashed head-on at each other and simultaneously chanted the combo:

Repulsive. Magnificent. Convergent

Both mages launched an enlarged stone as the base of their attack. The princess added an extra Crumble and Magnificent component to multiply the base stone into a meteor shower. The deacon reinforced his attack with Impervious and Magnificent. His boulder could easily resist the princess’s meteor shower but…

Obstreperous.

It was vulnerable to spell breakers.

Nimble.

Father Graham imbued his feet with the speed of the wind, he blazed through the incoming projectiles and snatched the rosary from the princess’s hand. His body withstood the debris field without a single scratch.

“Check, mate”, he declared.

Splendid. Fazegaid! Arc mul tasa, gondres faye!

The princess chanted in an ominous voice amplified by Splendid spell.

“What? Hand-free magic? Obstreperous.”

Fazegaid! Arc mul tasa, gondres faye!

The dragon perked its head and shifted its eyes toward Lilia. It let loose a ferocious roar and launched itself at the deacon. Its claws shattered a transparent barrier surrounding the deacon and scratched the deacon’s Impervious skin.

Father Graham was caught by surprise. He barely had any time to dodge but he barely managed it. The dragon opened its mouth and exhaled a stream of earth-scorching fire at close-quarter range.

Major Cryophilic“, the deacon and the bishop cried at the same time. Their combined magic kept the deacon safe but it was slowly being pushed back by the dragon’s fire.

Fazegaid! Raset guro! Raset imme!” Leo shouted, desperately trying to persuade the dragon to let the deacon go.

Splendid. Fazegaid! Raset guro! Raset imme!” Father Felacia repeated the same line. This time, the dragon listened to him and backed off.

The language the elder dragon of Azeth–the eater of realms Fazegaid–could understand was Gondrash. Gondrash was an ancient language that made up at least two thirds of the magic tomes in Fa’el’s Grand Library of Prism. The people of Fa’el worshiped a dragon-god that carried their kingdom on its back and Gondrash used to be their official language before Fa’elan, a modern language based on Ashlorian’s alphabet, was adopted.

After the fall of Fa’el, only a handful of people in the world could speak Gondrash. Two of them resided in Ironheart: the archbishop’s disciple, Lilia Silverflow, and the master of linguistics, Leonardo di Price.

But it seemed Fazegaid only took orders from mages.

“Stand down, Lilia. That’s far enough. By the power vested in me, I void your seat in the Church of the Spirit. You are to pack your belongings and leave the church before the end of this moon.”

The princess tried to open her mouth but the bishop gave her no chance to talk back:

“You should know better than anyone else that there is no justification for attempted murder. If you want to embrace the barbaric way, either join the red-helm knights or wait until after your coronation”, Father Felacia ruled.

“And as for you, Father Graham”, the bishop turned to the singed but not dead deacon, “You can stop attending Silverflow meetings starting today.”

“Fine, whatever…” Father Graham lay on his back and stared up the nose of a dragon many times greater than he was. He contemplated for a while, soaking from top to bottom in its healing saliva before he finally spoke his mind aloud:

“Hey, linguist! Come and teach me dragon-tongue sometimes.”

White Destiny #11 (Rev 4)

The count’s hired swords knew there would be no easy victory against the red-helm knights. The two elite knights versus fifteen mercenaries, full-body plate armor versus overwhelming number, and a life time of training for war versus a life time of fighting for survival was the premise. Mallets smashed into sturdy bucklers, swords met unbreakable gauntlets and within seconds, first blood was drawn.

Two elite knights versus fourteen mercenaries was the new premise.

Steve the ironsmith charged into the fray, a tower shield in each of his hand. A morning star landed on his back, he flinched and paused to glare at the man at the handle-end of the spiked steel ball. His unarmored back shrugged off the hit; he got away with only indentations and no blood.

The man fumbled on his ass and dropped his weapon. His eyes widened, complexion turned pale as more and more of his friends were cut down all around him. Blood dripped and gathered in ponds around the knights’ feet. The mercenary, stuttering “monsters, monsters” in snorts and tears, crawled on all four and scrambled for the exit.

The fight had been brutal but it was far from over. Back to back, the knights fended off six assailants at once. The ironsmith stood his ground and prevented the remainder of the mercenaries from en massing the knights.

Amid the chaos, Alexander D’Amore drew from a leather pouch a brown gold cylinder, roughly half a fist-wide in diameter, and aimed the cylinder at the knights.

The inventor looked up. His lips felt the moist and saltiness of blood bleeding out from a glass cut across his cheek. But, the cold running up his spine did not come from blood loss; it came from the sight of a lightning pipe Alex was holding between his long, slender fingers.

Alexander D’Amore had his fingers wrapped around the side of a cylindrical artifact. Safety lid was off. His thumb curved on the trigger switch at the enclosed butt of the pipe. A lightning ray captured in a pipe was an instrument of war unique to Fa’elin civilization. It set forth a lightning force as mighty as a platoon of war mages. It was a terrifying weapon, the only known weapon capable of melting a dragon’s scale that could be wielded by anyone, even a toddler.

Electricity surged from inside the pipe. Magic runes sealing the lightning ray unraveled. Lightning arced from cracks on the pipe’s surface to metal objects nearby. An invisible hemispherical barrier protected the wielder and everything behind him from the leaking lightning force. Then, the barrier rapidly contracted, folding inward toward the business’s end of the pipe, concentrating lightning into a bubble of boiling power.

Leo knew he had to stop this mad man. He leaped and tackled Alex right after the lightning pipe was set off. He was a split second too late.

Steve dashed in front of the knights and put two layers of shields between them and the lightning ray. Mastercraft steel was no match for the bottled up force of nature. Like a hot knife through butter, the lightning ray melted clean through two tower shields, the ironsmith’s torso and all the way through the captain’s plate armor, chain mail, gambeson and flesh. It destroyed the brick wall behind them, continued punching through several market stalls and only stopped when it struck the jet black obsidian pillar at the central square three building blocks away.

The shock wave following the lightning wrecked further havoc. It swept everything in its path hundreds of meters away and turned debris into deadly projectiles.

There were screams of anguish but none could be heard.

Vertigo, deafness and shock set in as the loudest thunderclap ever struck a human’s ear erupted. Even the man who caused his scene was dumbfounded by the destruction. Never before had a lightning pipe been discharged in urban area and, as the dusts settled down, it became painfully clear why lightning pipe was banned even as a siege weapon.

Alex yanked his leg off Leo’s grip and disappeared into the alleyways. No one could stop him then.

Shortly after the thunderclap announced the massacre to the world, the elder dragon of Azeth emerged from the clouds and landed near the obsidian pillar. It sank its jaw into the pillar, carving out the dead lightning ray, tiny in comparison to its size, and eating the creature on the spot.

Those who were not killed by the lightning, debris, or concussion suffered deep cuts, broken bones, skin burns and severe paralysis. They badly needed help but no help would come when a dragon as tremendous as the Ruby Garden castle itself laid claim of the territory.

The city guards watched from afar a great flame set by the lightning ray spreading over the district, consuming house after house, survivor after survivor. They were powerless, insignificant dirt under the claws of a mythical presence.

The dragon’s snake-like, elliptical pupils instill a fear so primal, it was paralyzing to those who caught glimpse of these eyes. The titanic form of this winged creature could be seen all over Ironheart. Its shadow plunged three nearby districts into total darkness.

Leonardo di Price had witnessed death and destruction before; after all, he was an herbalist and war architect; but never had he witnessed death and destruction of this closeness and scale. His body trembled uncontrollably, hair straightened, vision blurred, head drummed the pain of a thousand pecking, and his ears, dysfunctional.

“Oh God…oh—”

He shoved a hand over his mumbling mouth. This was not the time to call God. He must find…his allies.

“Steve!” he shouted.

No response. And, he could not hear his own voice; it felt awkward.

“Steve!” he tried again.

If there were a response, he would not be able to hear it. But he pressed on shouting.

“Josh! Kather—”

He stumbled upon a detached left arm of a knight. The shredded arm guard embroidered in golden threads told him this belonged to the captain. A large chunk of the torso still clung to the arm though it was sizzling and smelled like roasted ham.

In the rubble across the street he spotted movements. His eyes, then cleared up and no longer blurred, darted to the source of the movements. There stood Katherine, lumbering away from a crumbling wall.

“Katherine!” he shouted.

She kept on walking across his field of vision, removing her red helm and cast it on the ground as she did. Then, she removed her gauntlets and hastened the pace.

His eyes shifted, he finally saw what she was seeing.

“Cap…captain…”

He saw her lips mumbled these words. He too dragged his feet toward the corpse of the knight captain.

Joshua’s torso was almost gone. His armor was glowing red hot around the edges. There was no blood; everything inside him was cooked alive.

Katherine must have realized this too when she touched him. Her hands retracted from the heat by reflex. Agony and desperation were her descriptive words; she kept trying to pry the plate armor off his flesh.

Finally, the inventor stepped in. He grabbed her hand before she hurt herself further. She lifted her chin to look at him. The terror on her face was indescribable.

For a moment, there was a glimmer of hope in her eyes. Now, it was her turn to grab him. She grabbed his wrists, her mouth moved as if telling him something. His hearing had yet to recover and he could not make sense of her stuttering mumble jumble.

Stuttering mumble jumble was the only classification he could tell from reading her lips.

But she was shoving his hands into the captain’s red hot armor. Her grip strength was tremendous; his wrists felt like they could snap like twigs and he could not break free. It was as bad as it looked.

“I am an herbalist, not a god! I can’t bring back the dead.”

Dammit. She could not hear anything he said. She kept pulling his hands into molten metal.

“Gahh! Let go! I say let go!”

His fists touched the hot surface. He yanked harder and harder. Suddenly, before he knew it, he was able to overcome the knight’s strength and she toppled on top of him.

Salubrious. Minor Inflammable.

He could hear again.

A female voice announced two magic spells; the latter he recognized burned the remnant of Captain Joshua to ashes. Then a male voice announced the third spell:

Cryophilic.

Leo knew these voices.

In the darkened backdrop of embers and smokes; the silvery rosaries the bishop, the deacon and the princess wore seemed bindingly bright in his eyes. The city had dispatched all their magicians; the ones whose wield the rare gift of magic. Each of these mages could take on a legion of knights and emerge victorious.

The captain was no more; only his armor remained. Katherine continued to cry, digging her hands in the ashes that used to be the knight captain.

“On your feet, Katherine Livingston!” the princess commanded, “I hereby name you captain of red helm guard and grant you permission to take my horse.”

Her stern voice resounded and bore grandeur similar to that of the baron. Princess Lilia descended to ground level and shoved the reins in Katherine’s hand.

“Take her and make sure she reaches the castle safely.”

White Destiny #10 (Rev 4)

Alexander D’Amore was a troublemaker and a murderer. Those who crossed him, if lucky, would be found in one of the mass graves outside Ironheart. And yet, he was never found guilty of such crimes; a combination of corruption, fear, and confusion kept him far from the chopping stone.

The only crimes he had been charged with were sex-related; these were the crimes he chose to be associated with, these were the proofs of a predator, these were his trophies. In the end, each indictment only served to bolster his oversized ego when no one could enforce the church’s rulings.

Then, there was the princess and the baron, who could, maybe, put an end to this charade once and for all. But they would never do that as long as they still got hold of the dagger’s handle. This was what the D’Amore family meant to the crown: loyalists who went outside the boundaries of the laws to enforce the Ruby Garden’s will.

Everyone who had taken a dip in politics knew as much.

Thomas Jeremy Clevandi owned the inventor nothing. At a mere glimpse of a troublesome discussion ahead, the merchant picked up his sleepy son, dropped some coins on the counter and stood up.

“Oh wow, if you look at the time, gentlemen. I really have to go now. See you!” he waved his hand and turned on his heel.

He sure made quick strides to the exit.

Not much was going on in the tavern when Alex took the empty seat next to Leo. Scattered around the tables were armed mercenaries, casually walking in and taking seats at every corner of the tavern. When Thomas pushed on the door, he ran the wooden frame into a man standing guard. Leo could see at least two sentries outside as they let the merchant and his son out.

What happened to the league of angry husbands and fathers was of anybody’s guess but no one was entering despite the rowdiness outside.

“Okay, listen, Alex,” the inventor sighed, “There are ten, eh, fifteen meatheads in here who can snap a neck or two perfectly fine. You don’t have to drag me into this.”

The count sneered, “Two hundreds of them wouldn’t match a mage. No, no, Leo. I need a mage to get rid of another mage. Lilia, Felacia, Graham are out of the question for obvious reasons. That leaves me with only one option, Leo. You know what it is…”

He wanted to call upon the witch’s assistance. She permitted only customers who had attained the highest membership tier to request a curse. That would be Father Felacia and Leonardo di Price.

Alex was not wrong. This was indeed a request only Leo could make.

“Sorry, it’s impossible,” the inventor shook his head. “I can’t help you with that. She is dead. You need a spirit whisperer, not me.”

The count burst into laughter, “That’s funny because I heard she was the only spirit whisperer we have in this half of the world,” he remarked, not hiding his sarcasm.

“Well then, you’re out of luck,” the inventor summed up. He too laughed at the dilemma.

Suddenly, Alex swept his arms across the counter bar, knocking everything down to the floor. His laughter disappeared and there was only fury in his eyes.

“Do you think I’m stupid? I know she is not dead!”

The enraged man slammed a stack of pamphlets on the counter bar and sank a dagger into it.

“This crap is clogging every sewer in West Rufus. Her broom returned last moon to dump another load after the rain at ten washed away the previous load.”

Leo glimpsed at the pamphlets and, within seconds, became dumbfounded. The witch reopened her occult shop. The pamphlet, written in barely legible handwritings, informed patrons of her return and the timing. A few of these pamphlets had a background sketch of a dragon’s head in a square, and decorative runes at the corners.

“That idiot…” the inventor grumbled.

She was selling tickets to the reopening ceremony; two-hundred and fifty pris a soul, the fifth purchase would be free. Also specified in five passages of small writings were: no membership discount, front row seats available to “best friend” membership tier and above, waiver of liabilities for collateral damage etc. and etc.

“What is this farce?” he uttered.

“The sort of farce that has your name on it!” Alex snapped.

He was right. Leo’s name was indeed written on the pamphlet. His title, “the inventor”, appeared on the list of “authorized vendors” written on the other side.

“Look, Alex, there seems to be a misunderstanding here,” the inventor tried to explain.

“Shut up. You’re stalling, aren’t you? I’ll make this very straightforward and simple. You, ask you-know-who, to curse the other you-know-who. If I don’t see that other you-know-who dead by dawn, your precious journals will go into the fire pit and your girl will go on a boat to the rim as a slave.”

“My what?”

“Three stacks of dirty papers and that amber-eyed girl from your workshop.”

“You broke into my workshop!?”

Leo grabbed the man in front of him by the collar. His blood was boiling. The angrier he was, the louder the count’s laughter became.

“Yes, yes, yes, Leo!” Alex exhilarated, “I took your treasure. I took your woman. I turned her into a swallow and kept her in a cage. What can you do about it?”

Leo’s eyes glanced at the dagger on the counter. His hands instinctively grabbed the handle and pointed the tip at Alex. Three mercenaries immediately stepped in. They removed the dagger from his hand and pinned his face against the wet counter.

“I’m going to kill you, bastard!”

“Get in the line, Leo!” the count retorted, taking a jab at Leo’s stomach.

The blow knocked air out of his lung, Leo could barely stay on his feet. Another blow, this time from behind, took him down. His face lay on top of fragments of glasses.

“Two punches. Really? You can only take two punches? How the hell someone as pathetic as you are can lay hands on someone like her? Get outta here, Leo. She’s mine!”

“So…that’s what…this is about eh?”

This bastard only wanted a reason to steal another man’s woman. He enjoyed this. Of course, he was infamous for this. Only an idiot would believe he had a rational reason. Only an idiot like Leo would believe the self-proclaim centaur-born dickhead would act better than a mindless beast.

Leo dragged himself up. Damn, this hurt. But, he must not be on his face. He must sit up at the very least.

And so he did. Cracking a sneer, he stared at the count in disgust and spoke:

“Sure! Take her! See if I give a pris! But, don’t you dare lay a finger on my sketches! Touch my babies and I’ll blow your entire den up.”

Before Alex could utter a retort, one of his sentries flew in from the front door and landed on his back. Within seconds, swords were sheathed, axes raised, halberds turned and bows aimed at the tavern’s door.

A round metal shield barged in. All eyes fell on the hammer and pickaxe crest of Ironheart which was stained in fresh blood. The ironclad giants had to bow their heads to fit under the door frame. Two elite knights emerged in full plate mail. They cast their halberds aside and drew short swords from scabbards strapped to the waists.

“Alexander D’Amore, your fugitive life ends here. You are under arrest,” the red-head knight announced and slid down the cover of her helm.

Behind Katherine was Steve the Ironsmith, and the knight captain, Joshua, who smacked the hilt of his sword against his shield twice and declared the tavern a free-to-kill war zone. Following the captain’s ferocious war cry, the three of them leaped into action and swung their weapons at the armed mercenaries. Three of them versus fifteen mercenaries in a no-holds-barred battle to the death…

White Destiny #9 (Rev 4)

CHAPTER 3: DEATH IS IN A PIPE;

Alexander D’Amore was the first to be chosen as a suitor of Princess Lilia. Leonardo de Price was the second suitor. The third likely candidate, according to Sir Richard’s speculation, was Father Graham. The heiresses of Silverflow traditionally choose one candidate from each faction in the council. In the church of the spirits, the deacon was the only person young enough to be a suitor.

A few hours after he departed from the Ruby Garden castle, the inventor and his myriad of thoughts wandered into Brown’s Boulder tavern. The second period of lunar daylight began while he drank away self-doubts and this lingering sensation of a silk string in his grasp.

“Brown, refill!” he ordered, sliding an empty mug to the bartender behind the bar counter.

“This is an obscene amount of ale ye drank tonight. Heard Rick called ye in, what happened?” the bartender asked.

“Don’t remind me. I want to forget all about it. I mean, he thinks I possess carnal desire rivaling that of Alex!”

The master of trade, the merchant, coughed and spilled white wine all over the counter upon hearing Leo’s answer. The bartender threw a piece of cloth at the spillage in front of the merchant and uttered.

“Yer drunk, Leo. He did not say that. Pay for the ale and go home.”

Wiping his glass and then the counter clean of spilled wine, the merchant pointed his thumb at the inventor and said.

“Put the wine on his tab.”

“I’m serious. He said the princess told him just how vulgar I was to her. I was as bad as Alex, if not worse, she said. Am I that vulgar?” Leo asked.

“Yer not. Sometimes, but not always…”

“Not always? When am I that vulgar?” he pressed.

“Errr…see, princess called ye “vulgar lowlife” the other moon, nay?”

“That doesn’t mean I lust after her!”

After a loud gasp, the young boy who was napping next to the merchant perked right up. He casted his drowsy eyes around, confused.

It appeared the inventor’s loud response had woken up the merchant’s son. The merchant hissed, putting a finger on his lips, “Quiet, let him rest,” he shushed.

“Yer not wrong. Saying yer as bad as Alex was a tad too much. Ain’t anybody could be as bad as Alex…” the bartender shrugged.

“I know right? Seriously…what is she thinking?” Leo grumbled.

“I used to ask myself the same question. In pursuit of my wife, I took great interests in learning what’s in her head. And, I can tell you the cavern of her psyche makes Copperfang cavern look like an eight-year-old secret base,” the merchant remarked, passing the bartender the cloth soaked in wine.

Thomas Jeremy Clevandi had a wife and a son in Ironheart. His son was always seen accompanying him to markets and taverns. His wife, however, was never seen. He loved to talk about his wife but he avoided questions in regards to her whereabouts and identity.

Unlike the father, the boy spoke no words of his mysterious mother. He was mute and if the fact that he always cried when someone asked about his mother was of any indication, the woman who had stolen the heart of Thomas Jeremy Clevandi must have long departed from this world.

“There was this time when I visited a faraway tribe in the rim of the world. I met the chieftain, the shrewdest man I have ever encountered. He taught me a trick to figure out exactly what’s on the mind of any women. His five wives stood testify to his trick. If anything, it worked on my wife too.”

“What is this trick?” Leo asked.

“Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you,” said the guy who drank nothing but expensive wines.

“Alright, you can have my ale,” Leo handed him the ale mug.

“Price, don’t be such a cheap bastard. You’ll never get a good deal by saving a few pris on the formalities. Get me at least cider then we’ll talk.”

True. It was a minor expense to learn a trick that useful from the rim of the world. And so, the inventor made the order and the bartender delivered. The volume was less than if it had been ale but the amount of money he had to pay for the glass was the same.

Thomas rotated the glass of dark red cider slowly in his hand as he shared: “My wife loves this drink. These little snowflakes remind me of that winter night in Silver Gallop peninsula. That night, I was playing cards with the first mate on the bridge of our flagship when an iceberg—”

“Excuse me. I didn’t buy you a drink to reminisce the time you camp on an iceberg. Tell me now, what is the trick the chieftain taught you,” the inventor interrupted.

“Ah yes, the trick,” the merchant took a sip of the cider, following a brief contemplation. “Talk to her. Ask her. Grow a pair and ask, or turn into a woman and ask your own sissy mind,” he said.

Leo was not amused.

“I’m glad you’re entertained, Clevandi. The cider is on you and so is the wine,” Leo hissed.

Thomas snickered. This man did not need anyone pay for his bill. With the wealth he had amassed in his career as a merchant to the world’s rim, he could buy the entire tavern, possibly the entire neighborhood if he felt like doing so.

He leaned towards the inventor and gave him a nudge.

“Now, now, I do mean it. The only sure way to find out what a woman was thinking is ask. They are mysterious creatures; confusing and deceptive to everyone including themselves. While this is true for some men too, you will find that men are more…purposeful and rational, hence guessable and negotiable. Guessing won’t do for women, asking will. Do you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because asking means respecting and you don’t get enough respect as a woman in these parts of the world.”

“Sorry,” Leo raised his hand to interrupt, “I think we have a misunderstanding here. The princess likes the idea that I lusted after her. She likes the idea that I was disrespectful to her.”

Thomas paused for a moment. He uttered a quiet “What?” under his breath, and then resigned to the inevitable reaction:

“You know what? You’re drunk. That can’t possibly be true.”

“I am telling the truth!” Leo protested.

“There are only two kinds of men known to Lilia Silverflow: the baron and me. And I thought you were more virtuous than this. Heck, I thought you were on Rick’s team.”

“Alex, you cockroach! Where have you been?”

Approaching them from behind was Alexander D’Amore. There, patting on the inventor’s back and chuckling to himself was the charming lad who made himself the enemies of all men in Ironheart.

“Greetings, Leo, Thomas. I’m here to welcome the poor sap behind me in the line, the line to the executioner’s axe that is. But enough chit chat for now, I’ll get to the point. Leo…”

“Yes?”

“Get rid of the other guy or one of us will die. The baron told you whom she would pick. Get rid of him.”